Thinking of Things, Season1, Episode 10:

http://www.thinkingofthings.com/blog/meaningnessoflife/

The project of Meaningness

Let me already here attempt to define meaningness, and maybe modify it later:

Meaningness is the project of becoming a human being and not a bit of filth, it is the project of grabbing our infinite1 personhood and overcome our nature and nurture2. It is the project of turning the Other into Eachother, for one cannot grab one’s personhood without reaching out to Eachother; one cannot do it alone. And the meaningness of life is the reason for being. And it is a never-ending project, since consciousness is not a binary, when diving into the bottomless pool of personhood the transformations are neverending and without goal.

Sounds vague? It is not. The reason why the project of meaningness is concrete is simple: It is derived from the fact that we are biological creatures and we are social creatures.

In the previous episodes, four stages of human development were recognised3:

1. Imitating childhood, where one learns to discern the categories of a culture. Apples are different from oranges, wooden spoons from blocks of wood, mothers from fathers, etc. One imitates without an understanding of what the categories mean.

2. Insecuritydriven adolescence, where one, often painfully4learns social hierarchies and what the categories mean. These are the years when identities are understood and formed.

3. Culture-savvy adulthood, where the acquired cultural knowledge is utilised to keep the social pain away. Comfort zones have been formed, and the culture-savvy adult knows how to stay within their boundaries without getting hurt, or even uncomfortable. The culture savvy adult maintains identities, their own and other’s.

4. Maturity into occasional personhood and consciousness.5

The specific culture-savvy adult we end up as depend on the cultural upbringing which brought us here. One part of the project of meaningness is to challenge our cultural prejudices, preconceptions and biases, and they are rooted in our insecurity and fear of social pain. In our egos. Therefore, they can only be challenged socially, together.

However, to challenge is not to abandon, but to understand. Without cultural limitations we are no longer human. By challenging our prejudices we can understand them, be aware of them, and integrate them meaningfully into our lives, without the notion that they are good or natural6, but merely part of who we have become. By denying this knowledge, we cannot transform into anything.

Here my modern prejudice surfaces and I must battle with the notion that change is progress. Transformations do not make us better, it merely makes us different. Transformations do not peel off layers of insincerity and insecurity to find something pure beneath. I find it easy to fool myself into believing that there are aspects of the self dormant within, and hidden behind our culture. Of course this is not true, the aspects of our selves are not dormant, they do not exist until they come into existence through sincere engagements with the world, and especially with Eachother. Self-discovery is a process of formation and transformation, not of unearthing and peeling. If I were to peel off all layers of culture, I would be left as nothing.

To find meaningness is to be aware of one’s culture and the identities that come with it. The stage of maturity into personhood is completely dependent on previous stages. Therefore, each person’s meaningness is unique. And it is dependent on each person’s life history, including the cultural identities to which we have aspired, but also events beyond that, such as traumas, atrocities, accidents, etc. So my meaningness will be different from yours. It is not necessary, but it helps if my interactions with Eachother are diverse. This enhances the cross-section of cultural biases within me which are challenged. Meaningness is not about abolishing norms, but rather about engaging sincerely with the ones we can, and reject those with which we cannot and which stand in the way of sincere engagements. And the first step towards meaningness is to reach out to other human beings. To turn the Other into Eachother.

The Other and Eachother

Berthold Brecht: “What do you do when you love another human?” “I draw a sketch of him” said Mr K, “and I take care about the likeness” “Of what? The sketch?””No”, said Mr K, “the human”7

We connect with others through our vulnerabilities. When we are insecure we try to hide any perceived flaw or vulnerability in social interactions, and hide them to ourselves. Thereby we create a distance between us and other people (and to ourselves), turning them into the Other. We crave the Other’s respect or admiration or fear, and judge ourselves by our ability to hide perceived flaws and instill responses in the Other. The Other becomes a projection for our embarrassment. But our vulnerabilities are connected with our insecurities of perceived flaws, which are only flaws in a certain cultural context. Only by being open about our vulnerabilities with Eachother do we get a means to deal with them, and only then do we let ourselves really get to know Eachother, and in the process get to know ourselves, maybe for the first time. Learning to truly know another person is to truly learn to know oneself. And by so doing, both you and the other person transform, so who you knew no longer exists. Meaningness turns the Other into Eachother.

Vault

To love your neighbour as you love yourself is not a good idea until you love yourself. When we are treating other people as Others, by hiding our flaws, this leads to insincere interaction, the extent of which only goes as far as the other person is useful to us, either by comforting our insecurity through the response we elicit, or by furthering some other insecurity driven cultural aspiration. But not as infinite persons with whom interacting is meaningful in itself. And we do this because we despise our flaws instead of recognising them as part of who we have become, and as an opportunity for learning and transforming.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “If we only treat people as how they are, then we only make them worse; if we treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of being.”8

By interacting with the world while being sincere to ourselves, we manifest what we have become. And we become what we become through sincere engagements. And by manifesting, what we became is tested and transformed so that we keep becoming. And by manifesting, Eachother and the world transform with us.

If, on the other hand, we try to hide who we have become to the world and in our interactions with it, who we are will never manifest, and we will not transform. We fear who we are, formed by social insecurity we hide behind lies we tell ourselves, behind layers of vagueness, finding rationalisation in retrospect. Vagueness in interactions detaches us from Eachother, ourselves, and the world. If we do not acknowledge the aspects of ourselves which come into existence through our interaction with our context, and take them serious, those aspects cannot manifest.

Question: How do we know that our meaningful and sincere engagement with another person is reciprocated, and that the Other is sincere in their engagement with us, so that we form an Eachother? Is it a binary, either Other or Eachother, or is it gradual and part of the project? Is it important to know?

Through sincere engagements with oneself, the world, and Eachother we bring into existence aspects of ourselves. This demands time for interactions with the world and Eachother, as well as time for solitude and reflection. Through reflection we may become aware of possible aspects of our selves and of the world, which then can be tested against reality. And through the testing, they may be modified and transformed until they are discarded and replaced through a constant cross-talk between internal and external engagements. Without both Eachother and reflection, we could not be.

Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

Question: What is the difference between authenticity and sincerity? How do you think authenticity relates with meaningness and the totalitarian? Also: Is it possible for sincerity without engagement, or engagement without sincerity to constitute meaningness?

Next page: We are biological and social creatures

Page 1: “Introduction”
Page 2: “The project of Meaningness”, “The Other and Eachother”
Page 3: “We are biological and social creatures, Meaningness is political”
Page 4: “On the virtue of having a hobby, Meaningness vs. Happiness, A few examples”
Page 5: “The Meaningness of Death”